How to Choose the Best Fly Line

Choosing the right fly line can be a difficult and confusing task, especially for the beginner fly fisherman. However, next to your fly rod, the fly line is the most important piece of tackle for fly fishing. In fly fishing, the fly line is what carries the fly to the trout. If you buy cheap, stiff line that is prone to memory or abrasion, you will have a very frustrating time out on the water. When choosing the right fly line, there are several things you need to take into consideration.

Line Weight
Start with the line weight. Line weights range from 1-15, with 1 being the lightest and 15 being the heaviest. Lighter lines are used for small fish, like medium-sized trout, panfish etc., whereas heavier lines are used for salmon, steelhead, and other bigger fish. When choosing a fly line, you want to match the weight of the line with the rod you have. Fly rods are designed to match a certain line weight, and you can find this information on your rod (usually near the handle, above the reel). While some anglers purposely use a heavier or lighter line than which the rod is intended, it is generally a good idea to match the line weight with the rod. So, choosing the right weight is easy, because you are somewhat limited by the rod you have. When you look at a box of fly line, you will see a code that will look something like “WF4F” or “WF8S.” The number in this code is the weight of the line. The letters will be explained below.

The next thing you want to consider when purchasing fly line is the density. The density simply refers to whether or not the line floats, sinks or partially sinks. In the code you generally see on a box of fly line, the density appears at the end. Floating lines (“F”) are by far the most popular type of line, especially for beginning anglers. You can fish dry flies, nymphs, and many types of streamers with a floating line. Scientific Anglers Trout and Cortland Trout Precision are two great types of floating line. Sinking lines are another type. Sinking lines sink, but at different rates. The rate will be listed somewhere on the box. Sinking lines are ideal if you plan on fishing big lakes where you need to get your fly deeper. Sinking tip lines are another choice for fly fishermen. Only the first 10 or 30 feet on a sinking tip line sinks. Since your line sinks at an angle, you can determine the final depth of your fly with a sinking tip line. This is very helpful if you are fishing fast, deep rivers with a lot of current.

The last thing you want to look at when buying fly line is the taper. The taper is simply the way the line changes from end to end. The type of taper appears at the beginning of the code on a box of fly line. Weight forward (WF) tapers are by far the most popular, and they are a great choice for beginner fly fishermen. Weight forward tapers are thicker at the first ten yards or so, thereby putting more weight at the front of the line, allowing you to cast further and in windy conditions. Double taper (DT) lines widen in diameter the first fifteen feet or so of the front and end of the fly line and are uniform in between. These lines are great for making short to medium distance casts, but because of the weight distribution, they are not the best choice if you plan on making longer casts in less-than-ideal conditions. A shooting taper is another type of taper on a fly line. Shooting tapers are simply “bigger” weight forward tapers. They have a lot more weight at the front of the line, allowing you to make very, very long casts. This is helpful if you need to make those casts, but shooting taper lines are not the best choice if you are trying to present a small dry fly to a trout in  a mountain stream.

How much you can afford is definitely going to determine the type of line that you buy. However, even though you don’t have to spend a fortune to have fun fishing, I would not recommend going cheap on the fly line. If you buy a poor quality line that is prone to memory and abrasion, you are going to have a very, very frustrating time catching fish. Again, your fly line is what delivers your fly to the fish, so choosing a good quality line is key to having success. Rio, Scientific Anglers, and Cortland are all great brands to choose from when purchasing fly line.

Hopefully this guide has given you some things to think about when you go to purchase your next (or first) box of fly line. If you are just starting out and you plan to fish for bass, panfish, or trout in small rivers or streams, go with a weight-forward, floating line. If you are fishing for bigger fish in deeper waters, you will likely need to get a shooting tapered, sinking line.